FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It has been more than a year since the recording of a controversial arrest in Fort Worth turned into a viral video online. Now, the Fort Worth Police Department is announcing changes related to how its officers deal with members of the community.
Every police officer in the department has completed a training course in de-escalation and the use of force. The department’s goal at a Wednesday presentation was to show city officials and other task force members what is now to be expected from the officers as they patrol the streets.
The new training course, called the Police Executive Research Forum, dealt with crisis management and intervention, gaining voluntary compliance, and managing non-firearm threats. The department hopes that it will forge better communtiy relations and help the public to have a better overall understanding of the situations that officers face on a daily basis.
“This training is about slowing it down, not being afraid to use time and distance, and not be afraid to say, if something isn’t working, to back off, call a supervisor and try it in a different way,” said course facilitator Chuck Wexler. “Sometimes, in police world, backing down can be seen as a weakness. But, in this training, it is a strength.”
Officers attended 18 training sessions over the past six months.
“The police officer’s ability to really take a pause and look at the situation differently,” explained Chief Joel Fitzgerald with the Fort Worth Police Department. “My expectation is that we employ some soft skills when dealing with situations where we can potentially get out of it without use of force, and not having an officer hurt or citizen injured.”
These changes in the training program were made earlier this year. They were sparked by the Jacqueline Craig arrest. Video of Craig’s arrest in December 2016 went viral, and put Fort Worth in the national spotlight. The case is actually being discussed in court this week.
Itamar Vardi is accused of assault by offensive contact. Prosecutors said that he grabbed Craig’s 8-year-old son by the back of the neck and forced him to pick up raisins that were dropped near Vardi’s house. The child testified in court on Tuesday, along with Craig’s 12-year-old daughter, who witnessed the incident.
However, when police arrived at the scene, it was Craig who was taken to the ground and placed under arrest. Charges against her and her daughter were later dropped while the officer who made the arrests was suspended for 10 days, but not fired. That decision sparked outrage within the community, and demands that the city take more responsibility for what happened.
Vardi was issued a citation a month after the incident. He has pleaded not guilty.
As for the police training program, facilitators plan to stay in touch with Fitzgerald to discuss continued training in the future.